So many ways to water

I was in a garden store last week and de­cided to ask a professional about how to manage a garden during a drought. His re­sponse was, ”So many ways to water!” Here are some of the ways to water based on the reduce, reuse, recycle model.


OK, turn on the water, fill it up! Let’s get the boat in the water!

People that have grown up with a resi­dential water system tend to take good water for granted. You turn the tap at the sink, and you expect water to come out.

You expect water in the lake for skiing and fishing. Farms with irrigation depend upon there being water in the ditch.

Water is essential for life to exist. Sev­enty-one percent (71 percent) of the earth is covered with water, yet only around 2 percent of the water is suitable for man, wildlife and vegetation. That is for plants, insects, bacteria, wildlife, and MAN!

All life relies on water being available from rain directly, or stored in catch­ments and the aquifer, or snow melt in rivers. The average man can only live about three days without water. Man can only live about three weeks without food, which also requires water. The average family of four uses about 146,000 gallons per year. Water is pretty important stuff to be taken for granted as as we do!

Where does your water come from? Other than a small number of private wells, the vast majority of drinking and irrigating water to sustain Montezuma and Dolores Counties comes out of the Dolores River and McPhee reservoir. Of great concern should be the quantity and quality of the water that makes it to the lakes for distribution and treatment.

Where does our water start? Mostly as snow in the San Juan National Forest from Lizard Head Pass west, and east along the crest of the watershed. This is the Dolo­res River watershed, which is composed of only 512,000 acres to provide all the water for the river and McPhee Reser­voir. It takes 275,482 acre-feet of water (1 acre-foot is the amount of water cov­ering an acre 1 foot deep, about 325,851 gallons) to meet the Four Corners water rights needs, clear to Dove Creek, which also includes 31,798 acre-feet dedicated for downstream fishery. That means there must be 176,000 gallons of water produced as runoff, on ev­ery single acre of the watershed, go­ing into springs, streams and rivers every year, AF­TER soil recharge, trees and other vegetation needs are met.

If we want to ensure a good flow of water, we have to manage to keep the forest healthy and productive to meet the needs of all the life forms depending upon it.

The trees have the single biggest impact on water and other life forms. The trees help protect the soil and lower vegetation and produce oxygen and moisture for the local air quality. However, if the trees are too thick they shade out the grasses and flowering plants and shrubs that elk, deer and other wildlife need for food.

When we get stuck in the snow, we don’t think about the fact that the trees actually catch rain and snow in their branches, where up to 45 percent of that moisture directly evaporates without ever making it to the ground or your faucet. The water that does make it to ground can be used up by each tree at an average of 10 gallons per tree per day, sometimes more. Our forest has around 100 to over 1,000 trees per acre in places. That is us­ing a lot of water, just to meet the forest need.

When the trees are too thick, as they are now, with there being up to 10 times too many trees in much of the forest, there is not enough water to keep that many trees healthy and also support grass and shrubs, and maintain springs and streams.

The end result is we have a weakened, unhealthy forest, desperately needing to be thinned out to improve forest health, water availability for other plants, wildlife, man, and recreation!

An unhealthy forest results in insect and disease damage followed by wild­fires. That results in wasted resources, soil damage, and excessive erosion with burned ash clogging stream beds and the fishery habitat, all the way to the reser­voirs and even, into the water treatment facilities.

Responsible watershed management demands the forest be actively managed to ensure a future healthy forest, produc­ing maximum water, timber and forage for all. Do you want water at your tap, for food, wildlife and recreation? The state and local counties that depend on the wa­ter and forest resources are the ones that know best how the local forest needs to be managed, not some politicians in New York and Washington, D.C.

Editor’s note: A local group called the Do­lores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative, or DWRF, meets regularly to discuss ways to enhance the health of the watershed.

Dexter Gill is a retired forest manager who worked for private industry, three Western state forestry agencies, and the Navajo Nation forestry department. He writes from Lewis, Colo.

The first step in any behavior-modification process is becoming aware of excess water use or like another behavior model, “Hi, my name is Carolyn, and I am an H20-aholic.” Becoming aware of water going down the drain without any beneficial use is as easy as parking a watering can or container next to the kitchen or bathroom sink and putting it under the faucet anytime you are running water. This is particularly insightful when waiting for the wAdd Newater to turn hot. I filled a gallon container waiting for my tub water to warm. Yikes! Good thing I have some plants in the bathroom that were more than happy to slurp up that water.

The next step is making sure that the wa­ter is getting where you want it, i.e., that there are no leaks or diversions. This step requires a bit of diligence and time to locate the tools and spare parts required to fix potential leaks and crawling under the sink and other dusty places to evaluate faucets (indoors and out), toilets, and other appliances. Now is a good time to replace that leaky hose or hose connector, as garden stores are having end-of-season sales. Time to respond to the old­ie-but-goodie crank call, “Is your toilet run­ning? You better go catch it!” or in this case, you better fix that leak. The investment will more than pay for itself in water bill savings and the satisfaction that you are on top of your home maintenance. Winter is coming!

For the super water reducers, there are more draconian behavior modifications, such as timing your shower. That could be fraught with peril for those less concerned with personal hygiene, as my younger broth­ers were happy to just eliminate it altogeth­er. Some folks reduce the number of toilet flushes with the “if It’s yellow, leave it mel­low” philosophy. Personally, I am not a big fan of that as I don’t like the smell. One way around this problem is to replace the toilet with a “low-flow” model, a worthy in­vestment if you are remodeling. This is true for other appliances. Modern dishwashers and clothes washers use half the water of older models while cleaning better. Empire Electric Association members/customers can get a rebate on the purchase of a new dishwater or clothes washer that meet water and energy efficiency standards. See for details.

Upgrading your gardening skills can also have a water payoff. Removing weeds that are sucking up water directed to your pre­cious tomato plants is one of the fastest ways to reduce garden water use. As a bonus, adding some mulch on top of the ground opened-up after weeding reduces the need to weed again.

Reuse and recycle

As a householder that hauled water for 10 years, I am a big fan of water reuse. Water reuse is based on the idea that there are two types of wastewater in a house: gray water and black water. Gray water includes waste­water generated by cleaning things such as vegetables, fruit, dishes, and clothes. Black water is everything else. The easiest way I have found to reuse water is to wash fruit and veg in a salad spinner with a solid bot­tom. I use the water saved in the salad spin­ner after washing beans, for example, and toss it onto the garden or flowerpots outside my door. My kitchen garden is watered with water from my kitchen.

To move to the next level of gray water use, it is important to be aware of what you are washing and what you are washing it with. For example, if you are going to reuse the gray water generated by washing dishes, it is important to use a biodegradable dish soap and to strain the dishwater before sluicing it on your garden. Using a biodegradable soap eliminates any potential poisons in your gar­den and straining the water avoids encour­aging critters such as mice who might enjoy the food scraps suspended in the gray water. If you are looking to reuse larger quantities of gray water, the easiest way is to divert the wastewater hose from your dishwasher or clothes washer to an outdoor location. Since these appliances include a wastewater pump, they will happily pump the water into your sewer system or into a gray water diversion.

This improvement comes with a few cave­ats. In a place like Montezuma County where freezes are possible any time of year, the di­version will have to be monitored to avoid freeze-up. Also, the same considerations about soap use and filtering apply in this case.

It is surprising how quickly water reduc­tion and reuse adds up. It is fun to keep score by reviewing your water bill and watching those gallons and dollars-due fall.

Some folks are saying the solution to man­aging drought conditions is to build more storage. I disagree, as we can’t even fill the storage we currently have in place. I suggest we reduce, reuse, and recycle our way to bet­ter water management during wet and dry conditions.

Carolyn Dunmire gardens, cooks, and writes in Cahone, Colo.

From Carolyn Dunmire.